Sarah will be starting her first year as a Computer Engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) – which is ranked #18 globally for computer science subjects – on a 4-year scholarship! Read on to find out how she managed to achieve this incredible feat.
From our previous interview with Sarah Go in 2018, we got to know about how she clinched the Honourable mention at the National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI) within just less than six months of learning how to code! Fuelled by her passion for coding, Sarah spent her winter holidays as a student tutor volunteer at Coding Lab to inspire the next generation of coders.
Q: Hey Sarah, it’s been a while since our last interview with you. Congratulations on getting a scholarship to UT Austin! What were your feelings when you first got to know about the scholarship?
Sarah: I was definitely very happy! Initially, I wasn’t expecting a scholarship because I was applying as an out-of-state student to UT’s Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program. 90% of spots are reserved for in-state students, and UT’s ECE program is considered prestigious in the US. So even admission is very competitive – not to mention a scholarship! – and this knowledge makes me feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to my school as well.
Q: What did you do to ensure that you stood out from the rest of the other applicants?
Sarah: There were many other qualified applicants, and even the admissions committee can’t specify what ensures an applicant will receive a scholarship.
I didn’t have to go for any interviews or submit any additional materials as I was automatically considered for a scholarship with my application to UT. I can say that I put a lot of effort into maintaining a good academic record and producing quality work in school, especially in my research projects.
And outside of school, my extracurricular activities – particularly my experience in Coding Lab, which I wrote about in my college essays, certainly contributed as well.
Q: What were the Coding Lab classes that you took and how have they brought you to where you are now?
Sarah: I took the Python Meets Mathematics course and honestly if I didn’t take that course I wouldn’t even have chosen ECE as my major! I went into Coding Lab as a total coding newbie and honestly was feeling quite ambivalent towards coding when I went to my first lesson.
I found the course material accessible and easy to understand, and I got to use the programming knowledge I learned in fun mathematical applications right from the start.
At the end of my first lesson, after just a couple of hours, I was so enthralled with coding that both my parents and I were surprised! But beyond the course material, what truly sparked my interest in coding was my teacher Mr. Yong. He’s an incredibly dedicated teacher, and his guidance and enthusiasm towards coding not only made me look forward to every lesson but, three years later, has ultimately motivated me to go into computing in college and maybe even as a career.
Q: How do you plan on making the most out of your time, now that things have changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
Sarah: Well, like many other students around the world, I am pretty much stuck at home this summer due to Covid-19. Fortunately, there are so many readily available resources be it educational and recreational on the internet that I have hardly been bored! I’m reading ebook versions of classics that have always been on my reading list, and have also been self-studying Chinese. I have also stuck to my goal of learning at least one new computing-related thing every day, which has definitely helped keep me busy and productive. Today, for example, while doing some problems I encountered a neat algorithm called the Boyer-Moore Majority Vote Algorithm. While reading about the algorithm, I learned that it was a UT professor that co-invented it, which is super cool!
Q: What are you looking forward to the most when you start university?
Sarah: I really look forward to meeting other students at UT; not only ECE students who share the same interest in computers as me, but also other students in different majors, all of whom have very diverse cultures and backgrounds. I also look forward to meeting professors at UT, who have done amazing work in their fields! As for my classes, I’m quite excited about learning more about the hardware aspects of computing, because I’ve really immersed myself in programming these few years. I believe these aspects of my university experience will be a real eye-opener for me.
Q: Any words of advice for budding programmers out there?
Sarah: My first advice to budding programmers is, honestly, to keep coding! That may sound kind of silly, but coding is one of those things where the best way to learn is by doing, or in this case, programming. Every time you learn something new, grab some problems or projects off the internet – or maybe think up something yourself – and create a program to try it out! I also think it’s good to keep challenging yourself. Sometimes, easy programming problems can be tempting, but you learn the most from hard problems – problems that seem complex and maybe even beyond your abilities.
By continually pushing your boundaries, you’ll expand your knowledge and eventually problems that you once found difficult will become doable.
And also – it’s completely fine to encounter difficulties and spend hours debugging a program. Just keep in mind that coding is a lifelong journey, and like a rollercoaster ride, while there may be ups and downs, it’s a lot of fun as well!